My son Evan has added a new challenge to the new year. At his suggestion, he and I are now going to aim to do a race every month of 2014. In this amazing city of running, there is no shortage of choices, even in the cold winter months. Within minutes we had a plan for the year. If only the rest of life was so easy to organize! Luke has also made a goal of running at least one 5k and several 3k races.
This once again made me think about how good running is for kids. How many kids make New Year’s goals? So I thought I would share a post I wrote last year for the blog RunRodRun called “Why Kids Should Run”. Enjoy!
Why Kids Should Run
My day to day life is full of kids. I am a parent of two boys and I teach elementary school. And while there are lots of great things happening with our kids these days, there are also things that worry me. I think we are all aware that many children today are not as active as they should be. For many kids “screen time” is their hobby, be it in the form of television, computers or video games. The statistics regarding screen time for children is astounding and yes, frightening.
Thankfully many of today’s children have access to, and take part in, a large variety of activities ranging from soccer, to dance, to the arts. And to my relief, free play is also making a comeback as parents slowly realize that children do not need every moment of their existence scheduled for them.
But what about running for kids? What are the benefits? The most obvious of course is fitness. Be it running during free play, sport, or a running club, the health benefits for children cannot be denied.
I think, however, that the benefit of running for kids is even greater than fitness. I think it goes beyond building muscle and strengthening small hearts and lungs. I believe running makes our kids better people and prepares them for adult life.
Both my 10 year old, Evan, and my 8 year old, Luke, are involved in running. Evan was 6 when he first ran a local 1k race, Luke was not quite 4. If you have never had the opportunity to watch a children’s 1k race, treat yourself because you will be guaranteed to smile! There is nothing cuter, or more inspiring, than a group of kids, many in race t-shirts that come to their knees, running, walking or toddling to a finish line. They have no idea that they are already taking their first steps to a healthy lifestyle, they simply enjoy the excitement of race day. And without realizing it they become immersed in a sport that attracts everyone from elite athletes to average people who have realized it is time to get off the couch and make fitness a priority. Kids learn through example and what better example can there be than an event with hundreds, even thousands of people of all abilities making the effort to improve themselves through running?
My boys have since run countless races, ranging from 1k to 5k. I admit I have not had to buy a new t-shirt for either of them for years now; their drawers are overflowing with race shirts. They are also lucky enough to attend a school that believes kids who run do better in school. Because of that philosophy all of the students, regardless of ability, take part in running club several times a week.
With all of this running I have had the pleasure of seeing what the sport does for my kids. It has without a doubt played a very important part in both their lives. But for now, I am going to use Evan’s experiences to explain why I think running goes beyond fitness.
Evan is one of those lucky kids for whom academics have always come easily – very easily. As a parent that certainly comes as a relief. But strange as it may seem, problems can arise when everything you do comes easily. For example, how do you learn to do something that is hard? How do you learn perseverance? How do you learn to struggle and perhaps even fail? And how do you learn you can survive failure? As parents we don’t always want to see our children struggle, but I believe we are doing them a disservice when we make sure they avoid anything challenging.
So here is where running comes in. For a small percentage of kids, running quickly and running for a specified amount of time is easy. But most of them are just like us. In order to run they have to work, and that work is not always as easy as they would like. Running was very hard for Evan. To be blunt, he hated it to begin with. While he may be a natural academic, and he has creative skills I truly envy, athletics simply were not his thing. So what was his reaction to having to run? He wanted to quit. There was moaning and groaning and questioning of running’s purpose. This, I think, is not exclusive to children. Let’s be honest, we have all questioned at times why on earth we would put ourselves through the hardships of running.
But here is the great thing about running: with work anyone can improve. Put one foot in front of the other, do it on a regular basis and you will become a better runner. In fact, you can even become a good runner. And that is where Evan is now. He has learned that if you put in the effort, you get results. He has discovered perseverance is almost a magical characteristic. He has found out, like all of us, bad runs happen. They may frustrate us but we all survive and move on. Perhaps best of all, he has learned to be proud of himself. In a time when many kids look for external praise, he has learned that true pride comes from within. The night he completely surpassed his goal when running hills (and left me in the dust) he described the feeling as all the happy words he knows rolled into one. What a perfect description of the runner’s high!
So when I look at all the things Evan has learned, I see skills that will last him his entire life. Whenever he tackles something difficult he will simply have to look at running as an example of how hard work and perseverance pay off. After one of his races this year a friend of mine told him he was a natural. Later I said to him that I didn’t really agree with that statement. He right away said he didn’t either. He said he wasn’t a natural, he just worked really hard to get to where he is now. As a mother, I can’t be happier with these lessons learned at such an early age, through such a simple sport. And when I see all of those kids out at races, I can’t help but be thankful that they too are learning through each step to be stronger, better people.